Only a woman's word
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CTA. 2001. Only a woman's word. Spore 95. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46282
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore95.pdf
ACP women hoe the fields, hold up the sky and keep the peace. They should be publishing more, too.We are what we eat, goes the old saying. We are also increasingly what we read, and whatever else we absorb from various media: our families,...
ACP women hoe the fields, hold up the sky and keep the peace. They should be publishing more, too. We are what we eat, goes the old saying. We are also increasingly what we read, and whatever else we absorb from various media: our families, communities, school, print, radio, for example. Yet, at a time when many inequalities between women and men are being removed, the profession that supplies us with much of our information call it publishing for short is still lagging behind. In general, the publishing sector in many APC countries, is waiting to grow outside the educational and children s field: the lack of a paying market, readership levels and technical hurdles in production and distribution head up a long list of problems hindering the growth of literature and professional publishing. Move out to some of the extreme edges of the publishing world, into the realm of agriculture, agri-food and rural development, and you will look in vain for signs of gender equity, with a few notable exceptions. The number of women writers, editors and publishers falls way below the none-too-impressive average of women occupying 25% of media posts quoted by the African Women s Media Centre. Live hard, smile easy Even if the publishing profession does not show it clearly, the role of the ACP woman in communication is crucial. Few have put it more clearly than the Kenya poet Lilian Indira Igonga: Mama sitting by the fire Open our eyes To the coming seasons Unfold your prime days And tell us mother, how To live hard And yet smile easy Just like you Mama sitting by the fire Open our ears And smile easy Just like you Such traditional roles as story-telling, predominantly by women, have not always made it in the transition to contemporary styles of communication. There are still many more men writers and many more books written by men, says Asenath Bole Odaga, citing the imbalance in school-going girl and boy students, and the preferences of men officers in publishing concerns. Even after years of focused activities, the Uganda Women Writers Association, also known as Femrite, confirms this: its 2000 edition of the Ugandan Creative Writers Directory, published with support from the Alliance Française, lists twice as many male as female writers. Women bring change from within While writers are pressuring to genderise publishing, as witnessed by the Women Writers Conference at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1999 on Women and Activism, the profession itself is also struggling to join an era of gender equity. Of the relatively few books published on women in publishing in Africa and other ACP regions, one of the thinnest and that speaks volumes has been the directory by the African Books Collective, which gathered details of less than two hundred women professionally involved across the continent. Change is on the way. Publishing is a relatively 'soft' and creative profession, and perhaps easier to genderise than food security. This is certainly the case with such professional bodies as the rather feminised and very dynamic Pan-African Booksellers Association, the African Publishers Network with its strong emphasis on promoting gender issues among its membership, and the Caribbean Publishers Network which fully reflects the pivotal role of women in that region s development. These thrusts are reflected in a new wave of resource materials on editing, production and marketing (see illustration). They are produced primarily by women, and some directly address key themes, such as gender-sensitive editing, to deal with traditional stereotypes. Lady writer on the PC? In the already marginal fields of agricultural publishing and associated topics such as nutrition; marketing; finance, credit and savings; organisation and management, the role of women is very small. The vast majority of titles are being originated and designed by men, to this day. Until this imbalance in the messages changes, how much can we reasonably expect agricultural and rural practice to change? The prospects are good. Since this area is often not viable in traditional commercial terms, many publications are produced by non-profit bodies, or by regular publishers with external donor participation through such schemes as CTA s co-publication programme. These publishers in turn are generally committed, in a progressive and pro-active way, to gender equity, from their staffing policies to their editorial options. This makes their products more accessible, in terms of content and distribution, to rural readers where there is already a high-level area of demand, even if literacy levels still require much attention. Chipping away in a genderly fashion at the existing publishing profession is one thing, but the greatest prospects lie in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) and the use of electronic publishing. Throughout ACP countries, computer networks are actively used by proportionately more women than in the West. Some say that this arises from the new opportunities offered by the Internet to women s groups hitherto unable to practice their natural art of networking. Relatively new networks like Women s Net and Famafrique, and the new Hafkin prize (see In Brief) underline this. It is in a more traditional network, however, that we can see the surest signs that publishing is getting properly genderised. The International Women s Tribune Centre, a stalwart for decades of grassroots communication initiatives, has hooked onto ICTs. The IWTC project Rural Women in Africa: Ideas for Earning Money has started by operating in rural telecentres in Uganda, and will be usable on stand-alone computers anywhere. It provides rural women with ideas, case studies and an exchange of experience about micro-enterprise, through inter-action with a CD-ROM by mouse-clicks, appropriate graphics and spoken texts in local languages. Now isn t that spot on? It took women publishers to think of it. To obtain a fact sheet listing publications, resource guides and contacts click on the link: (www.agricta.org/Spore/spore95/spore95_feature2.html) or from the compilers, at the address of Mediateurs on page 'Between Us.'
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